The role of the opt-in process in building your email list

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Anyone who has been involved in online marketing of any description is already familiar with the concept of opt-in email.  Opt-in email is officially the ‘best practices’ standard for email communication with customers and prospects.  But how far does this concept go before it becomes self defeating?

The obvious violations this practice is intended to deter is the use of email addresses obtained under false pretenses.  For instance, you have a competition at a trade show and take in business cards as entries to the competition.  Later you input all the email addresses from the cards into your email marketing database and begin sending them your communications.

Unless you requested permission to communicate with these people by email when you obtained their business card, you are using it without permission – they are not opted into your list and many email marketing service providers will refuse to allow you to upload a list so compiled.

We all hate spam – that goes without saying.  But what about when a customer or prospect actually signs up for email communication manually, perhaps at a POS in a store or by filling in an email contact detail request form?  Depending on how quickly they are emailed by you after signing up, you may find that you still run into issues. If there is a time delay of more than a few days, they may forget that they signed up and either unsubscribe or make a spam report.

Some email marketing service providers require what’s known as a double opt0in.  This means that however the contact details are provided, whether they are provided manually and input later or provided by means of filling in an opt-in box on a web site, the sign-up can only be confirmed by clicking on a link provided by email in response to the sign-up.

If this link is not clicked on, the subscription is not activated and the person will not receive any emails from you.

Theoretically, this is fine and dandy, but what happens when you want to implement an email strategy and have an existing customer list?  What happens when your customer list is older and barely understands how to open an email let alone understand the opt in process?

On the surface, the checks and balances in place  protect legitimate emailers and their recipients from wholesale spammers, but can they go too far? Is the vigilance against unsolicited email too … vigilante? When you compare email to printed ‘junk’ mail, the rules regarding email are far stricter and it’s far more difficult to email an unsubscribed recipient than it is to send them something by snail mail.  Is this fair?

It really depends on the situation.  If you have a customer with whom you regularly do business and with whom you’ve communicated by phone and mail, is it unethical to add email to your communication methods? After all, you don’t ask for permission before you call or mail them.  In addition, if you’re using a reputable email marketing service provider, the recipient always has the option to unsubscribe, in which case, you will not be able to email them again.  They also have the option of reporting you for spamming with the simple click of a link. Too many spam reports and your email marketing service provider will soon be your ex-email marketing service provider.

Reputable businesses who use reputable email marketing service providers usually self regulate.  They want nothing less than customers or prospects reporting them for spam.

Renegade email marketers use bulk emailers who don’t abide by email marketing ethics.  They gather emails without permission and they email without providing unsubscribe options.  They will continue to do so regardless of rules and best practices.  Because of unethical operators, legitimate business people can sometimes face some extreme challenges with email marketing.

According to Marketing Sherpa, there are ways to ensure that your email list delivers the best possible response and doesn’t face any accusations of unauthorized mailing.

They suggest that each method of adding email addresses to your list is audited to ensure that the person being added understands that they are being added to your email list for the purposes of communicating with them.  In addition, they suggest that if you are sending more than one type of email that  they are asked for their preferences as to which ones they’re interested in receiving. Their third recommendation is that you make the frequency with which you’ll be sending emails very clear at the outset.

In this way, your recipients are more likely to receive emails from you that are of interest to them.  And you will be more likely to have a higher rate of opens and click throughs, as well as less spam reports and unsubscribes.  Remember, lack of spam reports and unsubscribes are not an indication of email success. Opens and click throughs will give you a far better idea of how many of your recipients are perceiving your emails as relevant – a precursor to taking action in the form of enquiries or sales.

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